Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Age of Exploration

(no, silly, we're not exploring psychedelic drugs)

Valerie says:

After months of planning and promising and procrastinating, we took a trip from Manhattan to Brooklyn yesterday (Saturday), taking advantage of the glorious weather to visit two friends in two separate sections of the borough. Brooklyn is less than fives miles from our respective homes as the crow flies, but public transportation was not constructed in accordance with crows' flight paths, so Manhattanites travel to Brooklyn with a bit of trepidation tempered by the pleasure and excitement of setting off to explore unknown territory.

Our friend Shiho works out by the Pulaski Bridge; our friend Philippa works moments away from the Williamsburgh Bridge. We took a train and then a car service to visit Shiho at the Ashbox Cafe; from there we took two buses to visit Philippa.

As soon as we got out of the subway, I knew I had not dressed warmly enough. Fortunately, there was a second hand store just across the street, and we went inside to try to find me a jacket. While I was looking through dreary $15 suit jackets, Jean went straight for coats, and found me a perfect lightweight knee length blue/gray felt coat by Loulou, seen in the photo above.

Jean says: Just as life doesn't always progress in linear fashion, taking strange turns and swtichbacks, so to did our adventure in the wilds of Brooklyn. I admit my trust in Valerie's planning skills momentrily wavered when she showed up in a light weight linen short sleeved jacket with just a camisole underneath. When we exited the subway on Bedford Street in Brooklyn, I secretly panicked when she matter-of-factly stated she'd just "pop into" the Salvation Army and buy an outer layer. What were the chances we'd find something that she'd like in her size in her price range? However, as luck would have it, within the first 3 minutes, I walked to the rack at the back of the store and located a cadet blue felted wool (felt is, as avid readers know, Valerie's textile of choice) high collared coat with big round buttons in her size for a whopping $9.99! What can I say? When you're hot, you're hot. While we milled around the racks for another 20 minutes, I myself found a Kenzo black long sleeve mesh turtle neck top with little points of fabric attached lengthwise on the torso and the sleeves for $4.99. Be still my heart. Things were looking up. Within a half hour of leaving Manhattan, we'd already scored the big game of vintage clothing hunting. As far as I was concerned, the rest of our safari was just icing on the cake.

Fortified by some light shopping, we went to find Shiho at the Ashbox Cafe. Until Christmas of 2009, for several years Shiho managed a Japanese tea shop on Madison Avenue where, among countless other things, she designed tempting gift boxes of exotic teas. Finally she decided she had learned as much as she could, and it was time to find a new challenge.

In a 180 degree turn, Shiho decided to take a job at the Ashbox Cafe (located between Ash and Box Streets) where she can work with food and friends in a stress-free environment. After three months of decompressing at the cafe, she's off to Japan and then to Switzerland where her family will celebrate her parents' 77th birthdays. On her return to the United States, Shiho will be exploring another new path. With no preconceived notions, she has no idea where the next part of her life will take her.

STOP THE PRESSES! OMG! JEAN WEARS COLOR! Imagine my shock and surprise and delight to see Jean wearing this fabulous multicolored tee shirt! Imagine my disbelief when she couldn't tell me who the maker was, or where she'd bought it! Here she sits, blasee in a rainbow of color, in front of her beautifully prepared lunch.

Shiho took a shine to our hats. Above, you can see the knit beret she wore to work that day. Here you can see how Jean's hat looks on her - totally different from the way it looks on Jean.

Shiho tries on my hat, which she clearly finds very comical.

Jean says: Shiho did not disappoint. The Ashbox Cafe was a study in wholesome, healthy simplicity from the food to the decor. Shiho looked fabulously chic in a skirt of her own design (made from vintage Guess Jeans and upholstery fabric), dove grey suede high top Doc Martens boots with cowboy boot detailing, sweater vest and wool knit beret. To our delight, and that of our fellow customers, during the course of our lunch-time visit, Shiho modeled each of our hats. The grand finale was her comic transformation into Disney's magical puppet, Pinocchio.

After a delicious organic lunch, we wish Shiho a great vacation, and good luck in her new venture, whatever it turns out to be. Then we continue on our own small exploration.

Jean says: Miraculously, at my suggestion, we retraced our steps by boarding the #43 bus (that took the reverse route on Manhattan Ave. we'd earlier traveled in the car service), transferred at Driggs Avenue to the #62 bus to South 4th Street under the Williamsburg Bridge and, by following our noses, actually found South 6th Street by walking west on Broadway two blocks until it split into South 6th. (Doesn't that sound like I actually knew what the heck I was doing?) Two short blocks later, we found ourselves at our second real destination of the day - Brook Farm General Store, run by Philippa Content and Christopher Winterbourne. Philippa is our friend Rosa's daughter.

She's been exploring for the past ten years - first at Christie's, then at Fred Leighton's, studying gemology and jewelry design along the way, managing a boutique in Greenwich Village, and now, having decided to be her own boss, at a cozy, homey store she and Christopher conceived, designed and built the interiors for. Rosa tells me they make many of their own products, like the liquid organic lavender hand soap I bought. Open for just under a year, they've already gotten lots of good press.

Jean says: A stone's throw from the East River and the Williamsburgh Bridge, the space itself is a spotless, airy, whitewashed oasis of calm, complete with an official greeter: Nutmeg, the beagle. While we were there, two of Philippa's friends dropped by and proceeded to make Nutmeg's day. With an assortment of treasures ranging from vintage flasks and Victorian and modern jewelry to a Stanley thermos collection to Uncle Goose carved wooden alphabet blocks, the beautifully laid out store is a well edited amalgam of retro and modern. Although we were told it is a work in progress, the back garden is already artfully landscaped. I can't wait to come back and check out the final product.

Among myriad other tempting places, we stopped into Abode, a hip, modern home design store, with everything from stainless steel tapas picks to colorful curvy felt trivets and bowls. I took advantage of the opportunity to buy an anniverary gift for my sweetie. Monday, April 12th marks our 24th! Shhhh. The gift's a secret. No pics, but check out their website.

Jean says: On our walk back from the base of the Williamsburgh Bridge to Bedford Street, we passed the most fabulous wall murals and couldn't possibly resist them. Needless to say, we shamelessly posed for each other's camera. Valerie won the voguing competition hands down. Speaking of explorations, as the day progressed, Valerie's persona became wilder and wilder. [Valerie says: huh???] With her electric blue glasses and pyramid hat, in front of the bright murals, she looked like a cross between DEVO and Grace Jones.

I am but a mere twig in the shadow of the great sequoia. My feeble attempts at drama in front of the gorgeous graphic murals obviously paled in comparison to Valerie's double barreled, take-no-prisoners styling. Valerie chimes in: I tried and tried to get Jean in touch with her inner exhibitionist, but she fought me and fought me until I had to respect the line in the sand she drew. Oh well. There will be other occasions... As for me, any comparison to Grace Jones or Devo, while completely coincidental, is also most welcome, however undeserved. (Note Jean's Abode gift bag. Shhhh!)

Valerie: I'm sitting on a Pepto Bismol pink siamese fire hydrant. It looked so vulgar I couldn't help but try to frame it with my legs. Unfortunately, it's barely visible at all, but it forced me into a hilarious pose I could never have dreamed up deliberately.

During our exploration of second hand stores, I came across this interesting dress. I like to wear dresses, but do so rarely, mostly because what I want (long and unfitted) is not generally available. So I grabbed this when I saw it. Its tags had been removed, but after I got home I looked into some old fashion books, and now I'm convinced it's an Issey Miyake (or Plantation) from about 1985. As as side note, I'd just like to say that the belt, also Issey, used to drape loosely and fall in a v shape toward my pubic bone when I bought it sometime around 1990. Now, as you can see, it's completely horizontal. Since the belt has not shrunk, this proves that the universe is expanding.

The fabric is cotton double ikat, probably woven in India after a traditional Japanese design. Here you can see the weave more clearly.

Ahunting we will go...

Jean says: Time sure flies when you're having fun. After a delicious organic meal at Egg, we tottered off to the subway and headed back to the reality of Manhattan. When I got off the L train at 14th Street and looked at my watch, I was shocked that it was 9:30 PM. We'd covered a lot of territory - both geographically and personally. I can't wait for our next big adventure and opportunity to "Bring 'Em Back Alive"!

What we're wearing: Atop her silver grey Donna Karan Collection silk and cotton cargo pants, TRYST by Mathew cotton T-shirt (visible in the shot of Jean at the table in the Ashbox Cafe), Kyodan jacket, aluminum and marble vintage ('70s?) dangle earrings, charm necklace and Dansko clogs, Jean is wearing a vintage black felted wool cap with two felt roses ("Jean Allen styled by Gage") from a thrift shop in Maine (thanks to Charlotte, who gave it away at one of her periodic clothing exchange parties) and Moss Lipow glasses.

Valerie is wearing a '30s white leather hat from Stacy Lo Albo's Incogneeto at the last Pier Show, blue plastic sunglasses from a small shop on St. Mark's Place (just down the block from the one time home of the legendary Electric Circus), felt coat by Loulou, polka dot jacket and white linen pants by Ellen Tracy (bought at separate second hand shops years apart), striped bra (can you tell?) and white stretch camisole by H&M, shoes by Land's End. Huge blue tagua ring from Mary Jaeger.


For those of you waiting with bated breath (not baited breath - that's for worms) to know if we made it to the New York Times Sunday Style Section (see last week's post), we are also still waiting. This Sunday's Style Section had not a peep (sly pun intended) about last week's Easter bonnets. If and when we find out, so will you.


  1. Awesome Marvelous outfits dear that you have wore in this blog...

  2. Hi Jean and Valerie! Briefly met you two last night at SOFA. It was so nice seeing you both in person, I adore your celebration of style and joy of life! Cheers and hope to see you both another time!